Relaxation and other therapies
Relaxation can help you overcome the tension and anxiety often felt as a consequence of insomnia. Those experiencing disturbed sleep have trouble unwinding sufficiently to get a good night’s rest, and for many, excessive mental activity and racing thoughts prevent them from getting off to sleep, or wake them up frequently or too early. Therefore it’s important to know how to properly relax.
And you may have heard about how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help resolve your sleep problems. CBT is simply a programme of psychological treatment that when applied towards sleep can correct mistaken ideas and negative thoughts that can cause sleeplessness, and make it worse. It actually treats the cause of the insomnia – and not just the symptoms, and can help by changing negative thoughts about sleep, and learning more accurate information in order to replace the negative thoughts with more positive thoughts and beliefs.
The most common forms of CBT are:
- Stimulus Control
- Sleep Restriction
- Sleep Hygiene
First let’s look at some relaxation techniques.
Relaxation and Breathing
Stressful lifestyles, working late, and watching intense television shows or the news, are some of the factors that can contribute to the mind racing and being unable to wind down. It’s important to know the importance of being relaxed before bed, and to have the knowledge of effective relaxation techniques to apply in order to experience deep, restful sleep.
Relax your Body
This can be done in bed and works by relaxing separate groups of muscles. It is also effective to visualise each set of muscles being relaxed as you go through the exercise:
- Tense a muscle by contracting and flexing for 7-10 seconds. Don’t strain the muscle.
- Visualise the muscle being tensed and feel the build up of tension
- Release each muscle abruptly, then relax, allowing the body to go limp before going on to the next muscle.
- Keep other muscles relaxed whilst working on a particular muscle.
How to relax each muscle group:
- Relax your feet by bending and flexing your toes, then moving both feet so that your heels are pointing away from you.
Legs and buttocks
- Flex your calf muscles by pulling your toes towards you, then releasing. Do each calf muscle separately.
- Tighten your thigh muscle, then relax, squeezing each muscle from your hip down to your knee.
- Pull your buttocks together, then release
Stomach and back
- Flex your stomach muscles by sucking your stomach in so that your navel gets as near to your back as possible. Hold, then release.
- Flex your lower back muscles by arching your back, though don’t do this exercise if you suffer from lower back pain
Arms and chest
- Tighten your chest muscles by flexing your chest, hold for up to 10 seconds, and then release.
- Flex your biceps, one at a time, then release.
- Tighten your triceps by extending your arms out straight, one at a time, and locking your elbows. Hold, then relax.
- Clench your hands into a fist, hold for 10 seconds and then release for 20 seconds.
Shoulders and neck
- Flex the muscles in the back of your neck by pulling your head way back, then relaxing. You can also rotate your head (sit up to do this).
- Flex your shoulders by raising them up as if you were going to touch your ears. Hold, then relax.
- Flex the muscles around your shoulder blades by pushing your shoulder blades, hold then relax.
- Raise your eyebrows as far as you can, hold then release.
- Open your mouth as wide as you can. Hold, then relax.
Finally, imagine a wave of relaxation spread throughout your body from the soles of your feet to the top of your head. Sink into the bed as you feel this wave of relaxation.
As well as relaxing you before bed, you can use this breathing exercise whenever anything upsetting happens, and before you react. It can be done anywhere because you don’t have to lie on your back:
- Sit up with your back straight and place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the entire exercise.
- Practice exhaling with your tongue in this position. It will be easier if you purse your lips.
- Now close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds (counting one one thousand, two one thousand etc)
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds then exhale through your mouth, taking 8 seconds to exhale completely
- Repeat 3-4 times and try to be accurate with the counting
- Do this every evening before bed
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps you identify the negative attitudes and beliefs that hinder your sleep, and replaces them with positive thoughts, effectively ‘unlearning’ the negative beliefs.
A typical exercise if to set aside 30 minutes in which you do your day’s worrying. During the worry period you keep a diary of the worrying thoughts because the act of writing then down is believed to reduce them. You’re now banned from worrying at any other time of the day other than this 30 minutes. And before going to bed you write down the worries you might have in bed then set them aside. When in bed you close your eyes and imagine these worries floating away in a balloon, leaving your mind free and unencumbered by these worries.
Stimulus Control – 20 minute rule
When you suffer from insomnia you may come to dread bedtime, expecting to toss and turn for hours. Bedtime and even your bed as well, are causing you to have a negative response, so this method teaches you to use the bed only for sleep and for sex. You are not allowed to read, do some work on your laptop, watch television, text or even speak on the phone.
You go to bed when you’re fatigued, and if you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, you get up and do something else such as listen to relaxing music or the breathing and muscle relaxing exercises. Bear in mind not sitting in bright lights, as mentioned in the Lifestyle section earlier.
When you feel sleepy again, then you return to bed. The idea of this is to build a strong association between bed and sleep, and eventually you’ll be able to fall asleep soon after getting into bed and not dread bedtime.
This method involves only spending the amount of time in bed that equates to the average number of hours that you sleep. For example, if you only get five hours of sleep per night, even though you spend seven hours in bed, you limit yourself to five hours in bed at night.
This method may make you more tired at first, but it can also help you fall asleep faster and wake up fewer times. However it’s not suitable if you’re only getting a couple of hours sleep, and should be supervised by a qualified CBT Sleep Practitioner.
Sleep Hygiene Training
Basically means following the first 6 steps in this book to ensure that you’re following the lifestyle habits that ensure a good night’s sleep. Disturbed sleep is often caused by a number of factors, so if you cover all areas diligently, you’re more likely to eliminate the factors that are causing you disturbed sleep.